Reagent and machinery shortages put Johnson's testing objective at risk
The push towards Boris Johnson’s pledge to achieve 500,000 coronavirus tests per day by the end of October could be thwarted by shortages of appropriate reagents and analyser technology for labs. Testing capacity currently stands at about 260,000 tests per day, and intense testing programme expansion efforts will need to be led to have the system ready to achieve the PM’s objective. Without a readily available source and the correct type of reagent chemicals and compatible technology, labs will see themselves under serious constraints as the winter season approaches.
Helen Dent, Chief Operating Officer at BIVDA, commented on the issue saying that “If there was a steady order based on forecast numbers of tests that people are expecting, there would be a steady supply. But the manufacturing times for both reagents and analysers for the increased number of tests that are planned have a bit of a lag.”. The testing system is currently seeing this current testing lag leading to demand outstripping supply by four times as much.
Ministers plan to spend more than £500m doubling the number of tests processed by laboratories at 16 hospital trusts as part of the effort to hit the end of October target. A hospital chief executive illustrated the concern felt by health management remarking that testing facilities ‘live hand in mouth’ in terms of whether they have sufficient reagents and analysers for test processing needs. The DHSC commented: “We are on track to have capacity for 500,000 tests per day by the end of October. We have a planned supply of reagent, allowing us to increase capacity in NHS laboratories.”
A spokesperson confirmed that the Department is working to automate parts of the testing process, hiring further staff, opening new labs (like the ones in Newcastle and Bracknell) and investing in new technology as ways to combat the issues faced in boosting testing capacity.